Cowboys’ run ends in 89-82 semifinal loss to Utah State
LAS VEGAS – The Wyoming Cowboys magical run in the 2020 Air Force Reserve Mountain West Basketball Championship came to an end in an 89-82 loss to second seeded Utah State in the semifinals on Friday evening in the Thomas & Mack Center in Las Vegas, Nev. The Cowboys were the first ever No. 11 seed to play in the semifinals of the tournament.
The Pokes tied the game at 66-66 with 4:45 left in the game, but the Aggies responded with 13-0 run to take a 79-66 game with just over 1:28 left to go in the game. The Aggies hit 10-straight shots to close out the game.
The Pokes were led by senior Jake Hendricks with 11 points for his 29th career game in double-figures. He finished his season with 91 three pointers, which is fourth-most in a single season in Cowboy history. Redshirt sophomore Hunter Maldonado added 14 for his 28th game in double-figures this season and 40th in his career. Freshman Kwane Marble II added 15 points and averaged 19.7 for the tournament. Fellow freshman Kenny Foster added a career-high 18 points and at one-point in the second half scored eight-straight points for the Pokes. Sophomore Hunter Thompson added 17 points, as it marked the first time this season Wyoming fell with five players in double-figures.
Wyoming shot 42.9 percent for the night with the Aggies countering at 56 percent. USU owned a 38-28 advantage on the boards for the night and added 32 points in the paint. Wyoming hit 15 three pointers, converting at least 10 for the fifth-straight game, and broke the MW Record for Threes in a tournament with 38.
The Aggies raced out to an early 7-3 lead using the inside game to set up a trio of baskets and trips to the free throw line. Hendricks would make it a one-point game with his second three pointer of the game for a 7-6 Utah State lead with just over 16 minutes remaining.
Utah State’s Merrill would build the lead to five points at 11-6, but Thompson started off where he finished last night knocking down a three pointer for an 11-9 game with 15:49 left in the first half. Marble II tied the contest with layup, but a quick 5-0 run by the Aggies highlighted by a Brock Miller three-pointer pushed the lead to 16-11 with under 14 minutes remaining in the first frame.
The Aggies continued to attack the paint and built a 21-16 lead from the free throw line halfway through the stanza. Maldonado added back-to-back buckets a minute later to make it a 22-20 contest for USU and Diogo Brito added a three pointer to push the lead back to five at the 8:30 mark.
Wyoming would battle back to within two, but Sam Merrill would add triple at the 6:20 mark for a 30-23 advantage for the Aggies, as Utah State hit 11 of their first 20 shots. The Pokes would go scoreless for over three minutes until Marble II hit a layup to make it a 34-27 game for Utah State with 2:28 left in the half.
The Aggies closed the first half shooting 52 percent from the field and took a 38-31 lead into the break. Wyoming shot 42 percent from the field, but were out rebounded in the first frame 20-11 with five offensive boards for the Aggies.
After Utah State opened the half with a three-pointer, Marble II added a layup and Trevon “TJ” Taylor added an and-one play for a 41-36 game. But a layup from Justin Bean and a pair of technical free throws made it a 45-39 game seconds later.
The Pokes would cut the deficit to three points holding Utah State scoreless for nearly five minutes until a Neemias Queta layup made it a 47-42 game with under 14 minutes left. Sophomore Greg Milton nailed a three pointer at the 12:10 mark to make it a 49-47 game, but the Aggies responded to move the lead to four points the following possession.
Freshman Kenny Foster heated up for Pokes and made it a two-point contest at 58-56 with under eight minutes, but Merrill hit a step back three pointer seconds later to push the USU advantage back to five at 61-56 with 7:28 remaining.
Thompson and Brito traded threes and Marble II added five-straight to tie the game at 66-66 with 4:45 left in the game. The Aggies would then make their run and take the contest and advance to the finals against San Diego State.
Utah State was led by Sam Merrill with 27 points, seven assists and four rebounds. Neemias Queta added 21 points, six boards and five blocks.
The Cowboys finished the season 9-24 overall and became the first No. 11 seed to make it to the semifinals of the Mountain West Men’s Basketball Championship.
— University of Wyoming press release